In connection with the war in Ukraine, the United States has significantly enhanced its sanctions against the Russian Federation. However, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (“OFAC”) recently issued a new General License, General License No. 27, which clarifies that the sanctions do not apply to certain humanitarian work in Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Thus, nongovernmental organizations (“NGOs”) (including 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable organizations) may engage in certain activities, either directly or by transferring funds in support, that would otherwise be prohibited under the sanctions.

In particular, General License 27 allows NGOs to sponsor or undertake “activities to support humanitarian projects to meet basic needs in Ukraine or the Russian Federation,” such as food and medical relief, water and sanitation projects, assistance for displaced populations, aid during natural disasters, and environmental programs, including the protection of endangered species and the remediation of pollution or other environmental damage. The General License also allows for activities that support “democracy building” in Ukraine or the Russian Federation, which encompasses, among other things, supporting the rule of law, “government accountability and transparency,” “access to information,” and “human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Additionally, NGOs may sponsor Russian or Ukrainian programs combatting illiteracy, increasing educational access, or assisting education reform projects. Importantly, all of these activities cannot involve the blocked persons or entities listed in Executive Order 14024, except that otherwise-blocked financial institutions may process funds in support of these humanitarian endeavors.

The General License does not require NGOs to report these authorized transactions to OFAC, though participating NGOs should still maintain detailed records of their activities in the Russian Federation or Ukraine, including a description of the goods, services, or funds provided, any other organizations involved, and a list of beneficiaries. Programs authorized by the General License also cannot implicate the activities barred by Executive Order 14066 (concerning the import into the United States of Russian energy products including oil and natural gas) or Executive Order 14068 (concerning the import into the United States of, among other things, certain Russian commodities and luxury goods).

Finally, OFAC maintains a number of other General Licenses under the Russian sanctions program, described in OFAC’s Russia Fact Sheet. These General Licenses relate to the U.S. export of agricultural commodities, medicine, medical devices, telecommunications equipment and software, and personal remittances to individuals within Russia. For additional information regarding the scope of the Russian sanctions and the General Licenses thereto, see OFAC’s FAQ Page. If an activity is not covered by the General Licenses, an NGO may still make a written application for a Specific License. An application for a Specific License must describe the proposed transaction or activity and explain how allowing that activity would not conflict with the goals of the sanctions program.

This issuance of this general license is similar to general licenses that OFAC has issued in connection with its other sanctions programs. Even in places like Iran and Syria, where the United States has broad, comprehensive sanctions programs, OFAC still permits a wide variety of humanitarian activities by NGOs. Without such a general license, the OFAC sanctions program would unintentionally prevent help from reaching those that are most harmed by the sanctioned regimes. Given the evolving nature of the conflict, NGOs seeking to provide humanitarian aid in the Russian Federation or Ukraine should continue to closely monitor OFAC regulations and news releases.